The Incredibles 2 is an incredible sequel to a movie I don’t actually love.
That’s right – I don’t love the first Incredibles movie. Even though it’s regularly regarded as being one of the finest superhero movies ever and often ranked near the top in any listing of Pixar’s best, Incredibles has always been something I appreciated more than I enthusiastically endorsed. Director Brad Bird’s the-future-as-seen-from-the-1950s design aesthetic, big brass soundtrack, and Silver Age superheroes-merged-with James Bond retro cool has always held me at a distance. Something in that combination of elements – maybe it’s that none of Bird’s inspirations align with my own – fails to click with me.
This doesn’t mean I disagree with those who regularly heap praise upon The Incredibles; it just means it isn’t a movie I’ve cared to revisit all that often.
But it’s been 14 years since the first Incredibles came out. Back then, the world was just a year removed from X2. The superhero movie itself has obviously changed quite a bit in that time frame, and after so many live-action Marvel/DC films and TV shows the genre’s last unconquered frontier remains animation. Makes sense to see what Brad Bird and team might do with the genre now.
Enter The Incredibles 2, a sequel which feels like Bird first came up with a family drama aspect he loves and then reverse engineered a superhero story around it which he only kind of likes. As such, as a superhero movie The Incredibles 2 is a bit lacking. There is an interesting meta-commentary on what living in a world full of superheroes would do to the psychology of crime victims. Plus, the action set pieces are suitably diverting. Still, it’s all let down by overly predictable plotting and villain reveal, but as a family drama about shifting power dynamics it’s plenty fun.
The plot this time: After being caught using their powers in an effort to stop Underminer’s attempted bank heist teased at the end of the last film, the Parr family – Bob (Craig T. Nelson), Helen (Holly Hunter), teen daughter Violet (Violet Powell), speedster son Dash (Huck Milner) and baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile) – are again reminded by the authorities that being a superhero is still illegal. Quickly after that, they’re living out of a motel – since their house was destroyed in the first movie – down to their last dime and unwanted by their own government. Things could be better.
Apparent, but obviously suspect salvation arrives in the form of Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), a second generation tech tycoon with a grand plan to use a series of publicity stunts to turn public sentiment back in favor of superheroes. Bob and Helen, along with old friend Lucius (Samuel L. Jackson), are recruited into the program, but there’s a catch – Helen, in her superhero guise as Elastigirl, is to be the face of the movement. The reason: her powers present the lowest chance of collateral damage thereby limiting the number of PR headaches (plus, you know, deaths or injuries). This point is non-negotiable for Winston and his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener), who will be handling all of the media.
Thus, we have the setup for a superhero Mr. Mom.
While the prior stay-at-home mom, Helen, becomes an ambitious career woman, the prior male breadwinner, Bob, is forced to stay at home and take on the challenge of being a 24/7 parent to three kids in constant need of his help. His task becomes exponentially more difficult once Jack-Jack’s polymorphous powers – meaning he was way more than just one power – grow out of control.
The Jack-Jack stuff, which was used as the centerpiece for the film’s initial marketing, occupies a lot of space in the story, certainly more so than Veronica’s cute-boy problems or Dash’s struggles with math homework. It’s really the same joke over and over again – Jack-Jack displays a new power, Bob/Violet/Dash reacts in surprise, Jack-Jack gleefully laughs at the destruction his new power has caused. Yet, it never actually tires and directly leads to the wonderful re-introduction of Edna Mode, the Brad Bird-voiced scene-stealer from the first movie. She again proves to be a delight as she bonds with Jack-Jack after a dangerously sleep-deprived Bob comes to her for help.
Jack-Jack so overwhelms the story it registers as slightly startling whenever we cut back to Helen and her ongoing quest to capture Screenslaver, who continues hijacking tech to target high-profile public figures. This element of the film is here because it needs to be for the genre, and Helen more than makes for a compelling hero paired with a formidable foe. However, since Bird has always envisioned the Parrs as being a superhero metaphor for a normal family with a strong father, stretched-too-thin mom, angsty teen girl, adrenaline junky son, and complete mystery baby the emotional heart of the story inevitably follows them wherever they go. For Incredibles 2, that usually means back at home with Bob and the kids.
Both story threads, of course, come together in the end as the superhero family comes together to try and save the day. Do they succeed? Maybe. Given the film’s box office, you’ve probably already seen it and know the answer. Still, I’m sticking with “maybe” for no-spoilers reasons.
More importantly, does The Incredibles 2 succeed as a superhero sequel? Mostly. Utterly predictable, but also utterly delightful and certainly the type of film younger audiences with devour.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Mr. Mom as a silver age superhero movie with a mildly meta-commentary on the social contract between citizen and hero.
Or, you know, just a super fun movie featuring a scene-stealing cute baby.
2. Screenslaver’s strobe light sequences truly are disorienting.
3. I can’t think of the last time a major movie included a scene in which a parent simply sits down with a kid and helps them do their homework the way Bob does for Dash here. How refreshing.